I was contacted earlier this month by a local paper doing a feature on the recent cold weather. I gave a few quotes and I think it turned out ok! Here’s the text from the article (it’s not online):
Last December was the coldest in the UK since records began, with the local weather station at RAF Northolt seeing its lowest-ever temperature. So why was 2010 among the hottest years globally? Reporter James Cracknell asks a top climate scientist from Brunel University.
Climate change is never far from the news and is a major concern, not just for environmentalists, but for anyone involved in planning and preparing for our future. Yet the science can seem complicated and confusing for many of us.
This is especially so when we look outside and see nearly a foot of snow, as Hillingdon residents did last month.
The Met Office have confirmed it was the coldest December in the UK since records began in 1910 and that a record low for the borough of minus 14.2C was set at RAF Northolt on the night of December 19/20.
How does this fit in with climate change, which we are told will cause average temperatures to rise rapidly unless the dangerous greenhouse gases released from burning oil, gas and coal, can be dramatically reduced?
The latest global figures show that 2010 as a whole was actually one of the hottest ever on record, despite the bitter winter seen in northern Europe. Climate scientists from the University of Alabama in Huntsville have reported that only 1998 – when world temperatures were boosted by a strong El Nino event – was hotter than 2010. And only by 0.01C.
Brunel University’s own expert, Dr Andy Russell, who lectures on the Climate Change Impacts and Sustainability masters course, told the Gazette: “The first thing to say is that a couple of cold winters in Europe do not mean that global warming has ended.
“We try to understand long-term changes over the whole planet – you can’t learn much by looking out of the window every now and again.
“Similarly, we also need to consider more than one season on one continent. Taking this view, we see that Russia, North Africa, Antarctica and the Arctic were much warmer than usual this year.
“When we work out the global average temperature for 2010, the European cold snap doesn’t come close to cancelling out those warming areas.
“Even the cooling seen over the Pacific Ocean in the last few months – a natural pattern known as La Nina – has failed to make much of an impact on the warming trend.”
But if the world is warming, why is it still so cold in the UK? “Oddly enough, it could be caused by the intense warming that we’ve seen in the Arctic in recent years,” explained Dr Russell.
“Some new research using computer models of the climate has shown that the melting of the Arctic ice has changed the wind patterns over a region reaching all the way down to Europe. Where our winters used to be bathed in relatively warm winds from the west, we now experience bitter winds from the east.”
The Brunel University course teaches students about the potential impacts of man-made climate change across key areas including health, business, politics and technological development.
Recent severe weather events such as the floods in Australia, devastating wildfires in Russia and record monsoon rains in Pakistan should become more common and present a major challenge for the authorities tasked with preparing for and coping with these disasters.
While forecasting the weather remains difficult, Dr Russell says the one thing we know to expect is the unexpected.
“As we continue to experiment with our atmosphere by adding more greenhouse gases, we should probably be prepared for more climate surprises like this one,” he warns.